ESTHER takes the biblical story of the book of ESTHER and places it in the ruins of former Arab and Middle-Eastern Jew area of Haifa, Wadi Salib, which was destroyed as a result of a riot in the 50's.
Though the story of the film takes place in the ancient Persian empire and its capital Susa, where Jews lived in exile, and the characters are dressed in epic-like ancient costumes, the backgrounds are ruins, within which the contemporary rearlity keeps interfering as sounds (cars, sirens, airplanes, etc) as well as visually.
Through this narrative strategy, the film itself makes comments on its story, and open up the metaphorical and universal reading of it. The book of Esther concerns the oppression of the Jews living in exile, so the Jews are the victims who somehow manage to survive. However, already the biblical story ends with the oppressed Jews becoming oppressors themselves. And the film ESTHER totally opens up this element of the story; exile, being oppressed and suffering are not monopolized by Jews.
Teaming with master cinematographger Henri Alekan, first-time fictional feature director Amos Gitai weaves out a stunningly righ series of visual feast. The rich use of colors and the strong sun lights of Haifa turn this fairy-tale-like story into high-contrasted visuals. Alekan's bold use of colored lights, as well as the stunning costumes based on Persian minuatures color codes already create a strong contrast with the simple, monochromatic ruin landscape. And the amazing 9 minutes tracking shot at the end of the film subvert and opens up what we thought the film was about.
It is a film that, most of all, makes you think. So not for the audience who were looking for a biblical epic a la Cecil B. Demille. But those who are open-minded enough and sensitive enough will find a rich visual pleasure in this masterpiece, and will also start thinking about power, oppression, conflicts et all from a different perspective than what we are used to see on, let's say CNN.